The Incidental Tourist

Two ways to confuse the locals in Japan

“Konichiwa,” I said as I approached the counter this morning to make my purchases at the Keio Department Store food market with my hands full of my items.

The lady at the cash register perked up and immediately began firing off rapid-fire Japanese at me, either asking me how my day was going, or more likely, expressing surprise that a hapless gaijin could speak Japanese.

I can’t.

And embarrassed, I tried to explain that to her in English, only some of which she understood.

Locals are often thrown if you can speak the language, or at least attempt to speak it.  Unless they are French.  If they’re French, they hate you for butchering their language when you try, or they hate you for NOT knowing French when you don’t try.

My Japanese vocabulary is pretty limited, but luckily, she was not terribly upset.  Bemused would be more apropos.

It’s also fun to continuously say “Arigato gozaimasu” when you are buying something, just to watch the confused looks and repeated bows.  I sometimes forget that there’s a pecking order and as the customer, I come higher than the cashier.  I’m used to just being polite, and I think they don’t quite know how to handle my breech in protocol.

The night before, I had dinner at a ramen shop.  This was the kind of place with a machine in the front that you put money into, punch some buttons to select your meal and extras, then present the printed tickets to the waiter who will convey them to the cooks and eventually bring you a delicious bowl of noodles, broth and meat.

This is another point where the locals just don’t know what to do if you actually understand how to operate the machine.  The waiter seemed perplexed that I even understood how it worked, and that was doubled by the fact that I had chosen to have an egg in my Ramen.

Egg-u?  Yes, Egg-u.  I want Egg-u.  Yes, I am gaijin.  Yes, I like the boiled Egg in my ramen, along with the roasted garlic.  Sigh…

We went back and forth for a few minutes, him insisting that I must be crazy for actually ordering something so … Japanese.  Perhaps he thought I may prefer to have some Spam or Bacon instead.

Eventually, however, he got the point, and I was rewarded with a bowl of ramen in a delicious miso broth, with slices of ham, scallions, roasted garlic and yes, my soft boiled egg.

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